Return of the Virtue Patrol

Posted: Nov 21, 2013 12:01 AM

WASHINGTON -- The hapless Richard Cohen has done it again. He was acting like a good scout in slandering Americans "with conventional views," and in the course of his noble endeavor he brought down on himself the full force of the virtue patrol. Well, he has only himself to blame.

In the course of writing a column assessing Governor Chris Christie's 2016 presidential chances, he went off on a playful scherzo, to wit: "People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York -- a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children [What did Cohen expect, tri-racial children? -- RET]. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts -- but not all -- of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn't look like their country at all."

No sooner did Cohen's column appear last week than the virtue patrol was at him. The Huffington Post ran a headline by his picture: "Dear Washington Post: Please Fire This Man." The mob followed, Salon, Slate, even the Washington Post's Wonkblog, if there is such a word. It could always be a typographical error. Why the mob did not follow Cohen's lead and attack "people with conventional views" perplexes both me and, I assume, Cohen. As he put it, "I don't understand it. What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don't have a problem with interracial marriage or same sex marriage." And he went on, "This is just below the belt. It's a purposeful misreading of what I wrote."

Well, I agree with Richard. Should we not be on a first name basis by now? I am defending him against a mob action. There is nothing in the aforementioned passage to indicate he is opposed to the mayor-elect's marriage. He is a man of the left in good standing and he was engaged in the left's great enterprise of slurring conservatives despite the fact that in practically every tea party gathering there is at least a minority of blacks. Moreover, among the leadership of the conservatives there are black leaders of colossal heft and dignity. Even in the Old South there are black conservative leaders, for instance Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Herman Cain of Georgia. Their number only grows.

As to whether the virtue patrol's misreading of Cohen was purposeful, I am in doubt. The left-wing has turned the American melting pot with all its benign diversity into a land full of bugaboos and acts of hate -- mostly imagined, thank God. Such bugaboos and acts of hate are left to the virtue patrol to comprehend. The America they live in is rather like the Balkans where Serbs and Croats, Bosnians and Slovenians and lesser clans all live in uneasy disharmony until a war breaks out and then neighbor slaughters neighbor. In America's melting pot the virtue patrol envisions race against race, ethnic group against ethnic group, even sex against sex. In the event of war breaking out the carnage could be terrible, but, as I say, the real America is a relatively peaceful place. Thank God.

As for Cohen, he is unlucky. He aroused the transient wrath of the virtue patrol, as have others: the football players, Riley Cooper and Larry Incognito; the celebrity chef, Paula Deen; and now the actor Alec Baldwin. Most of these wretches will probably survive after passing through their vale of tears. In Cohen's case his suffering could have ended years ago. I remember very well my editor at the Washington Post, Meg Greenfield, telling me in the late 1970s that she would never have him on her op-ed page. I could never understand why. He writes quite well, but Meg probably recognized he had a tin ear for controversy. At any rate he did end up on her page. He is unlucky, but someone up there loves him.

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